»THE MUSIC OF WORDS «
Under the patronage of his Royal Highness Franz, Duke of Bavaria
The king is a reader. Ludwig II went down in history as a builder of magnificent castles and a passionate admirer of Richard Wagner. But he was also a great – and surprisingly well-read – friend of literature. The poetic canon of his era was at his sovereign command. His private performances featured five classical or modern plays for every opera production. The works of Edgar Allan Poe were his constant companions in the last few months of his life. Literature pervaded his feeling and thinking. Small wonder then that at times, the subtext of his letters and personal records discloses itself only when perceived as a reflection of his reading matter.
Thinking in text and tone. Ludwig’s literary thinking was steeped in music. Even the wording of his most intimate thoughts is inseparably linked with poetic-musical associations. On the day he cancelled his engagement, he wrote: “Have written off Sophie. The sombre picture is obliterated: freedom claims me, freedom I thirst for …”, thus giving an example of a worldview utterly conditioned by art. “The sombre picture is obliterated” quite obviously pharaphrases Lohengrin’s “the sweet song dies away” in the bridal chamber while the rest of the passage renders, almost word by word, Tannhäuser’s rebellion against the erotic shackles of Venus. Ludwig enlists the help of song and poetry to get a grip on his own feelings.
The music of words. Our programme in 2012 uses the omnipresence of poetry and music in Ludwig’s emotional world to reflect on the relationship between literature and music per se. We are, however, not concerned with the natural relationship of the two in opera and lied, but with a specifically literary moment that goes beyond this basic consensus. In Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo, the mythical poet and singer himself deliberately enters the stage to point the way for the novel genre of musical theatre. In his 9th Symphony, Beethoven gave a new literary aspect to the symphonic genre with Schiller’s Ode to Joy. Robert Schumann, in Paradise and the Peri, boldly set to music a best-selling text of poet Thomas Moore, thus creating the literary oratorio as a new type. While Johannes Brahms, in A German Requiem, threw overboard the traditional rite of the Latin requiem mass and used Martin Luther’s texts to initiate a new form.
Musical language and proclamation. Beethoven’s Piano Concerto in G major at last opened the door wide to the genre of “talking” instrumental music. The symphonies and concertos of lied composers like Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms incorporate vocal building structures almost as a matter of course. Tchaikovsky quite deliberately composed his 5th Symphony as a musical autobiography while Shostakovich’s first cello concerto harbours a highly encoded political commentary. But our programme also attends to those who cross the borders between music and language – be it Schönberg in his melodrama Pierrot lunaire, or E.T.A. Hoffmann in his musical novella Ritter Gluck. And when Johann Sebastian Bach, in accordance with the Gospel of St. John, makes the word itself the central theme of his cantatas, music as a means of proclamation truly comes into its own.